Churches Reported to SBC Credentials Committee Over Johnny Hunt Invites

By Brandon Porter
johnny hunt legal action
On January 15, 2023, Johnny Hunt preaches at Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida. (Video screengrab)

Two churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have been reported to the denomination’s Credentials Committee based in Nashville, Tennessee, on the grounds that the churches are out of step with the convention’s stances on sexual abuse.

The reports stem from speaking invitations extended to former SBC president Johnny Hunt. Hunt was named in a 2022 report from Guidepost Solutions on the firm’s investigation into the alleged mishandling of sexual abuse claims by the SBC Executive Committee.

Hunt has admitted to “a brief, but improper, encounter” in 2010 with a woman who wasn’t his wife, but has denied that it was abuse.

In an email shared with The Tennessean by Todd Benkert, the SBC Credentials Committee acknowledged placing two churches under inquiry.

The churches are Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., and New Season Church in Hiram, Ga., according to The Tennessean.

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sbc abuse task force benkert
Pastor Todd Benkert speaks at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, in June 2022. (Courtesy Photo)

Hunt preached at Hiland Park on Jan. 15, and is scheduled to preach March 17 and 18 at a men’s conference at New Season Church. Hunt and his wife, Janet, are members of Hiland Park, according to a statement made by Hiland Park Senior Pastor Steven Kyle in a Jan. 15 church service.

Benkert is lead pastor of Oak Creek Community Church in Mishawaka, Ind., and a member of the SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). Benkert also spoke at a trauma-informed ministry training event at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim.

“The SBC messengers made clear statements about how we expect churches to respond to abuse,” Benkert told The Tennessean.

Messengers voted in 2019 to amend the SBC constitution to specifically state that mishandling sexual abuse is grounds for a church to be deemed “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention. In 2021, messengers adopted a resolution stating: “Any person who has committed sexual abuse is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor … [W]e recommend that all of our affiliated churches apply this standard to all positions of church leadership.”

In a video released in November 2022, Mark Hoover, of NewSpring Church in Wichita, Kan., Mike Whitson, of First Baptist in Indian Trail, N.C., Steven Kyle of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., and Benny Tate of Rock Springs Church in Milner, Ga., announced the restoration of Johnny Hunt to public ministry.

Rock Springs identifies itself as Congregational Methodist while NewSpring, First Baptist and Hiland Park are all affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

SBC President Bart Barber objected to the “restoration,” saying: “I would permanently ‘defrock’ Johnny Hunt if I had the authority to do so.”

ARITF Chairman Marshall Blalock joined Barber’s sentiments.

“I fully support your (Barber’s) statement. This kind of ‘restoration’ works against abuse prevention efforts and harms those who have suffered abuse,” Blalock said.

Hunt was also scheduled to preach at a Great Commission Weekend later this month hosted by Fellowship Church in Immokalee, Fla., but was later disinvited.

According to the SBC’s website, the Credentials Committee “… will not release comments or updates regarding submissions through the media or by other means unless or until a recommendation is submitted to the Executive Committee for withdrawal of fellowship from a church.”

This article was originally published by Baptist Press and reprinted with permission.

Brandon Porter serves as Associate Vice President for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee.



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2 thoughts on “Churches Reported to SBC Credentials Committee Over Johnny Hunt Invites”

  1. I would be surprised is the SBC disfellowships these churches. They are large churches that probably bring in big money.

  2. “7. For the overseer must be blameless as one entrusted with God’s work, not arrogant, not prone to anger, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain.
    8. Instead he must be hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled.
    9. He must hold firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught, so that he will be able to give exhortation in such healthy teaching and correct those who speak against it.” (Titus 1:7-9, NETfree)

    It appears that Mr. Hunt especially fall a short of verses 8 and 9. Since he and others are given the honor of overseers they should be held to the standards of overseers and they should give such talks at entirely at their own expense❗🤑

    The SBC Credentials Committee sounds like a very good venue for attacking this problem for SBC churches and all mega-churches should fill out IRS 990 forms and make them public. Good advice in this article.

    “How To Check Your Church for Financial Transparency” 🙄

    “10. For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains.
    11. But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.” (1Ti 6:10-11, NETfree)

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